How To Make Your Graduate CV Stand Out

Coming out with a good CV can be a daunting prospect. Boiling down the very essence of what makes you such a fabulous choice of new colleague, in a way that will get you noticed, then cramming that onto a couple of sheets of paper isn’t easy. Take a look at these tips, where we walk you through the process and clue you in on what employers are looking for in the ideal CV, and how it can help in preparing for an interview.

Get the basics right

A CV is your very own marketing campaign. There’s no such thing as a useless detail. If it’s on the page, it’ll be getting scrutinised. So if a segment, or even a single word isn’t working hard enough, take it out.

This is because most employers spend just a few seconds looking over an awful lot of applications per job. Keep things digestible, your CV should never be longer than two pages. Pay special attention to the format. Break sections up with strong headers, bullet points to make each page easier on the eyes, and pick a font that’s both easy to read and carries a sense of your personality (unless that personality is Comic Sans).

Because so many CVs are distributed online, spare some thought for keywords. Prospective employers might be using certain specific phrases to search for candidates. Keep these phrases in mind and use them. Don’t get too abstract in an attempt to galvanise them with your lexicon.

Sell yourself

Always include a cover letter and a short personal statement, otherwise your CV is just a list of dates and names. Your research into the company will help you decide what information is the most relevant, and best to include in the shorter personal statement. Meanwhile, your cover letter helps you put the details on your CV into their proper context.

This research will also help you tailor your CV to the company’s specific business goals. Your skills and experience should demonstrate how closely aligned you are with what the business is up to now, and where they plan to be in the next three or four years.

Don’t just tell them how this is the case, show them. Pick out concrete examples of things you’ve done in past jobs, and outline how that achievement has prepared you for the challenges you’ll face in this new role.

Keep extra-curricular achievements in mind too. University groups and societies, or even individual hobbies will each require some kind of skill or base of knowledge. Just picking something up shows commitment, willingness to learn and an ability to work with others to get a task done.

Of course, it’s important to put yourself across as a competent, complete human being, but steer clear of anything that sounds airy-fairy. Employers will be comparing you against other candidates, so give them numbers and stats wherever possible to back up your stories.

Even an achievement that’s less than totally relevant to the job at hand can be made interesting to employers with some impressive stats backing it up. Also think about how you can expand on different elements of that achievement to really drill down to the key competencies that employers are looking for.

Know what not to say

It’s also worth knowing how to cover gaps in your CV. If you have long periods out of education or work, or even long periods spent in irrelevant jobs, an employer might see that as a lack of focus.

Personal or family reasons for taking time out from pursuit of your dreams are understandable, and few employers will press you too hard for details, but be prepared to at least have that conversation and include as much information as you can to mitigate any uncomfortable questions later on.

One way to draw attention to the right places is to be ruthless with the data you include. The advice above about editing your writing and formatting also applies to the information you’re presenting.

At this stage, employers are unlikely to care how many GCSE’s you got, so leave that out or gloss over it. Only leave room for information that will wow your audience, and lead the reader on a carefully constructed journey around your CV.

Check the finished product for any words, phrases or details which sound great, but will be found on every other CV. Everyone says they’re a ‘good team player’, everyone is ‘passionate’ about something. Assess things critically, and question whether information is there to present you in the best possible light, or whether it’s just in there because you feel obliged to include it.

Acronyms are another risky area. A high POR score on all your KMT tests might be very impressive, but if your prospective employer doesn’t know the jargon of your former job it won’t help you. Ditch jargon and acronyms in favour of (literally) spelling out why you’re the right person for the role.

Of course, the temptation to inflate certain facts to paint yourself in a good light, or even make things up entirely, can be strong. Don’t do it. In a best-case scenario you risk being caught out in the interview with a question you can’t answer. At worst, you’ll find yourself faced with issues on the job which you simply aren’t equipped to handle. Let the truth speak for itself.

The perfect CV for your next step in life

Above all else, bear in mind that your CV is designed to get you the interview, not the job. It’s a piece of marketing collateral designed to spark interest and make the audience want to learn more.

A great CV is a work of art, you’ve got to tease the prospective employer, giving them enough solid reasons to want to speak to you, while still creating a broader sense of wonder at what you might accomplish together.

Has this got you thinking about how you could brush up your own CV? When you’re done, take a look at our page on graduate interview tips and be ready for the next step in your career.